BMW Offers Customers a Stake in Carshare Venture

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Buyers can put their car in the DriveNow fleet when not in use

BMW AG is taking steps to link its car customers to the sharing-economy, offering owners of its latest Mini a chance to place their vehicles in the auto maker’s global DriveNow car-sharing service.

Customers who buy BMW’s new Mini Clubman, which the German auto giant launched on Wednesday in Berlin, can rent their vehicles via car-sharing service DriveNow. The option could help them earn money from car-sharing fees when their vehicle would otherwise sit idle.

DriveNow, a joint venture between BMW and German car rental firm Sixt, provides car-sharing services in several European and North American cities. Like similar services, customers pay a registration fee, a basic usage fee and per-minute rates. Smartphone apps allow users to locate and reserve vehicles.

The Munich, Germany, auto maker’s move demonstrates how the auto industry is trying to find new business models to ensure car ownership retains its value. Many young consumers now prefer to access cars through sharing services such as ZipCar or RelayRides rather than owning their own vehicle.

“When you don’t need it, your car can work for you and you can make money,” said Peter Schwarzenbauer, a BMW executive board member in charge of the Mini brand.

On Wednesday, Ford Motor Co. separately unveiled plans for car-sharing projects in selected cities in the U.S. and in London. David McClelland, a Ford vice president, said the company is responding to customers who have asked for a service that allows them to share the costs of owning a car with others through rentals.

“This program will help us understand how much this wish is shared by customers that finance their Ford,” he said.

BMW’s Mini is a tiny, sporty car that became a British icon in its original 1960s form and was featured in the popular film “The Italian Job.” New Mini models sold to retail customers will include the same technology that allows DriveNow vehicles to be accessed with a smartphone by paying customers.

“We are the first company that will offer a car-sharing option that each customer will be able to offer with their private car,” Mr. Schwarzenbauer said.

BMW will first offer its new car-sharing option in the U.S., where DriveNow is one of the largest car-sharing services and competes against rivals such as Daimler AG ’s Car2Go, ZipCar and RelayRides.

Car rental agencies such as Enterprise, Hertz and Avis also have car-sharing services. BMW’s service will be available in China and Europe later, the company said.

Ford’s financial-services arm, Ford Motor Credit Company, is cooperating in a pilot project called Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing with the American online car-sharing service Getaround Inc. and in London with the U.K.’s easyCar Club, a car-sharing social network.

Peer-2-Peer car-sharing will be available in six U.S. cities including San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and in London, Ford said.

BMW made its announcement as part of a broader overhaul of the Mini brand and the launch of the new Mini Clubman, the largest of the five Mini models. The new Clubman will be built on the same platform as the BMW 2-Series compact. BMW aims to move the Mini up into the luxury compact segment, a fast-growing niche world-wide.

Citing market studies, BMW says the global premium compact segment is expected to grow 4% a year and will account for more than 27% of the total global premium passenger car market by 2020.

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